From inside a Newark, N.J., courtroom on Friday, two former subordinates to Governor Chris Christie were found guilty for their role in a lane-closure scandal in which testimony implicated the governor himself.
Charged with nine counts of fraud, conspiracy and depriving the residents of Fort Lee, N.J., of their civil rights, former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Bill Baroni, were convicted on all counts.
Attorneys for both Kelly and Baroni told reporters they would appeal the verdicts.
Defiant following the court’s decision, Christie sought to distance himself from the scandal and insisted he had no prior knowledge of the lane closures and was never informed of the activities of junior assistants.
“I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments, and had no role in authorizing them,” Christie said in a statement following the verdict. “Anything said to the contrary over the past six weeks in court is simply untrue.”
The case revolved around Kelly and Baroni conspiring to close traffic on the George Washington Bridge connecting New York and neighboring New Jersey in September 2013 over Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s refusal to endorse Christie’s reelection bid.
Prosecutors charged the pair conspired to injure Sokolich politically.
A third co-conspirator and key prosecution witness, former Port Authority official David Wildstein, told the court Christie was aware of the lane closures and the governor dissolved in laughter over the traffic congestion Sokolich faced over the lane blockage.
Wildstein pleaded guilty in 2015 for orchestrating the diabolical plan.
Seeking refuge, and testifying Wildstein acted alone, Kelly told the court she was aware of the lane closures, but was kept in the dark over the strategy’s true intent of political revenge, believing at the time the closure was inspired by an authorized study of traffic patterns in the area.
An email obtained by authorities may have swayed the jury, however. During the trial, prosecutors showed jury members an exchange from Kelly to Wildstein in which she wrote: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Baroni and Kelly face the possibility of 20 years behind bars for fraud and will be sentenced Feb. 21, 2017.
In a “CBS This Morning” interview Friday, Christie said the retaliation scheme was “one of the most abjectly stupid things I’ve ever seen.”
On Monday, Christie explained in greater detail his role in the case. “If they would have told me that they were creating traffic at the George Washington Bridge in order to punish the mayor for not endorsing you, I would have remembered that. And they never said that,” Christie said.
“In the whole trial, no one, not even Bridget Kelly, Bill Baroni or David Wildstein ever testified that anyone ever said to me that this was an act of political retribution.”
U.S. District Attorney for New Jersey, Paul Fishman, didn’t respond to a question about whether or not Christie would be charged for his role in the scandal, only offering that a subsequent case would only be brought if there is “evidence beyond a reasonable doubt” that the governor committed a crime.
[Reuters] [AP] [Photo courtesy Kena Betancur via ABC News]